Heidi Heitkamp

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., talks to farmers and ranchers at an agriculture forum hosted Sept. 11 by the Red River Farm Network at the 38th annual Big Iron Farm Show in West Fargo. Heitkamp is seeking a second term against Republican challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer. 

One of the greatest privileges of serving as your U.S. senator is meeting North Dakotans of all walks of life, hearing about the challenges families overcome, and rolling up my sleeves to help tackle the issues they’re facing. The stories I hear motivate me to wake up every day and fight for North Dakotans, and that was the case when I met Allison.

Today, Allison is a high school senior in West Fargo. But unlike her classmates, she needs $300,000 worth of medication every year just to stay alive. Before the Affordable Care Act, Allison’s insurance bills totaled $1.7 million – and she was dangerously close to reaching her lifetime insurance limit, meaning her family would have to start paying out-of-pocket for her medical expenses.

Allison’s family faced financial ruin – but thankfully, patient protections in the health care law saved Allison’s life. Under current law, Allison and her family are protected from lifetime caps, and Allison can’t be denied coverage because of her preexisting conditions.

I support provisions in the health reform law that are working, like those that keep Allison alive and healthy. But the difference between me and my opponent couldn’t be more clear. Kevin Cramer supports attempts to repeal these life-saving protections, potentially endangering Allison once again and saddling her family with outrageous health care costs, while I’ve been working hard to fix what’s broken.

I’ll be the first and loudest to say that the health care law isn’t perfect. When I was elected, I formed a health care advisory board – made up of North Dakota patients, providers, health care administrators and experts – to find solutions to fix what isn’t working for North Dakota. This group has developed ideas to improve rural health care, address maternal mortality, and start bringing costs down. And I’ve worked across the aisle with Republicans to delay the Health Insurance Tax that would have made health care even more expensive for North Dakota families and small businesses.

But when Mitch McConnell brought up partisan health care bills that would have hurt our families, I voted no and went to bat for North Dakota. The Senate repeal bills were deeply partisan and downright dangerous. They were opposed by patient groups like the North Dakota Hospital Association and AARP because they would have undermined patient protections for North Dakotans with preexisting conditions, raised premium costs for thousands of families, or eliminated federal funding for North Dakota’s bipartisan Medicaid expansion signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple. The impact on rural health would have been particularly devastating – ending funding that helped keep hospital doors open in small towns across North Dakota.

Kevin Cramer looks at health care through a strictly political lens. Instead of reaching across the aisle and finding solutions, he’s taken what he’s called 65 “symbolic votes” to repeal or undermine the health care law. President Donald Trump even referred to one of Cramer’s health care repeal bills as “mean” because the bill gutted protections for North Dakotans with preexisting conditions. It even placed an “age tax” on North Dakotans ages 50-64 – allowing insurance companies to charge them up to five times more for care than younger people. With Cramer’s health care plan, it’s simple – you’d face higher costs, fewer patient protections, and less comprehensive coverage. Period.

I didn’t go to the Senate to take “symbolic votes” – especially not on an issue as important as health care. North Dakotans elected me to find solutions. Folks like Allison, her parents, and moms and dads in every corner of the state are deeply concerned about their access to affordable care. They deserve so much better than what they’ve gotten from Cramer, who’s been more concerned about scoring political points than finding solutions. If you’re concerned about health care and looking for a leader who’ll work across the aisle to protect families and bring costs down, I’m humbly asking for your vote on Nov. 6.

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, an Agriculture Committee member, serves on the Farm Bill conference committee. Previously, she served North Dakota as attorney general and tax commissioner. She and her husband Darwin, a Bismarck family physician, have two children – Nathan and Ali.